I was travelling to visit my daughter at college this past weekend, and an article appeared in my news feed: “Colleges Should Not Have to Have Food Pantries” (The Nation). The article was about the growing problem of hunger and homelessness among college students. The article cited a recent survey (College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report”). The survey noted that 42% of 4-year college students had experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days. Twenty-eight percent of college students answered yes to the statement “I was hungry, but did not eat, because there was not enough money for food” at least one entire day during the prior month. Five percent of the 4-year college students answered “yes” to the statement “I did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food, at least three times in the previous month”. One quarter of our college students are not eating at least once a month because they can’t. And some of those aren’t eating any food at all, three times a month. —–
This is not some far away problem happening in remote villages in other countries. This is a problem that is happening today, in my country, in my zip code, in my school district. I live in one of the most prosperous places in the United States. A local real estate developer recently built a tract of $2 million and $3 million dollar homes, and they sold out immediately. Our school district produced more National Merit Finalists this year than any other school district in our state (and twice as many as the second highest school district). And yet, according to our township tax rolls, 5% of the people in our township live below the poverty line. In 2019, the poverty line means that a family of four had less than $24,250 in income. —–
A few years ago, my friend Bill and I were working with a local non-profit organization, and were delivering a Thanksgiving meal to a local family. We went inside and loaded food into a refrigerator, and a little boy cried to his mother “milk Mommy! They brought milk! We never have milk!”. This same organization pays some of the overdue school lunch debt for parents who are unable to do so in our district. Social workers tell us that for some of the students, the school meals that they receive are the only meals that they receive, unless social workers and nonprofits intervene.
My wife participates in an annual backpack drive for our high school. Parents donate school supplies and backpacks so that every student starts the school year with a minimum set of school supplies. This August, that same nonprofit prepared more than 200 backpacks full of school supplies for students who were identified as needing that support. Sometimes teachers stuff those same backpacks with food, so that their students have something to eat over the weekend.
A few years ago, my friend Bruce shared a story with me about a child in his school district who was discovered to have fleas. Social workers and nurses were called in to help, and they learned that the child, and his family, were living in the woods near his school. —–
Why do we have hunger in America? Why do children wake up hungry and go to bed hungry in America? The United States of America (according to Investopedia) is the third largest producer of food in the world, and the largest exporter of food in the world. So it isn’t a matter of supply. If it isn’t a matter of supply, why do children go hungry in America? —–
What does this type of hunger cost us? What does it cost you, and what does it cost me, to have children going hungry in our country? Do we think that those children can be as productive as others if they haven’t eaten? Do we think that they can concentrate on their studies? Can they participate in any other activities? Do we think that they can plan for their future, or even think about it, if they haven’t eaten yet today? What does this hunger do to them? What does it do to us? What does it do to us as a country? As a people? What does it mean when we live with this gnawing hunger? —–
I just started the book “Just Mercy”, by Bryan Stephenson (soon to be released as a motion picture). Early in the book, he states “the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice”. If that is the case, we are surrounded by the injustice of childhood hunger.